Glee 2013, held in Birmingham last month, might sound like some sort of comedy event, but far from it. Glee is the UK’s major Garden and Leisure Exhibition – and a mecca for all those in the garden centre and garden equipment and supplies markets.
And the thing that makes it really interesting for us is that, for the last two years, catering has been included as a major section of the show – reflecting the huge growth in cafes and restaurants in garden centres right across the country. Large areas of the show were dedicated to catering equipment and a wide range of traditional and speciality foods as well as seminars and presentations on restaurant and café design, the latest trends in food retailing and how owners can use social media to market their eateries.
Garden centre is probably a bit of a misnomer these days. Just ten years ago, a garden centre was just that – a place to go for bags of compost, shrubs and trees, bulbs, seeds and garden equipment. But gradually the profile has changed and the focus has shifted towards gardening as a leisure activity and we’ve seen elaborate gift shops spring up and basic cafes turn into excellent restaurants, licenced and serving hot and cold meals right through the day. The garden centre has become that most fashionable of all things – a destination.
The final numbers are not in yet, but GLEE’s organisers were expecting 11,000 visitors this year representing 70% of the UK’s garden centres with a combined potential purchasing power of £1.8bn. That’s impressive and just one indication of the size of the market.
A recent report on horticultural retailing by marketing intelligence provider, Key Note, found that the development of garden centres into family-orientated ‘destination’ outlets has put them in a strong position within the retail trade. As people are turning more and more to the Internet for their shopping, garden centres are offering an attractive alternative – a chance to get what you need – along with free advice – and then a chance to relax over a high tea or a long lunch while the kids run riot in the play area.
This positive view was supported by the Horticultural Trades Association who found that visits to garden centres had risen from 36 million in 2008 to 55 million in 2011 and that more than half of the garden centres in the UK now offered catering.
It’s probably a reflection of our ageing population and the fact that the retired are now healthier and fitter than ever before, that it’s the older among us who make up the majority of a garden centre’s visitors – and they are the big users of those cafes and restaurants too.